This Oaxacan restaurant in Phoenix offers authentic and unique flavor of southern Mexico

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Immersing yourself in the gastronomy of Oaxaca is a delight with a great variety of aromas, flavors, colors and shapes that delight even the most demanding palate.

Different types of mole, the traditional tlayudas, chiles stuffed with chicken, enchiladas, enfrijoladas, tacos detasaj, empanadas, quesadillas and many other delicacies are part of the menu.

And despite the distance, finding that same flavor in Phoenix is not impossible.

Las 15 Salsas Restaurant Oaxaqueño, located on Avenida 7 and Hatcher Road, calls itself “La Casa del Mole y Mezcal”, and with good reason. The drinks and dishes prepared in this place are traditional from that part of Mexico, with their products brought directly from that region to satisfy the Arizonans.

The owner and chef of the place, Elizabeth Hernández, is very clear about one thing: to follow her grandmother’s recipes to the letter to offer that unique flavor of her land. She has done so since opening her doors in 2012.

“With this need and dream of having our nostalgic product, more than anything, I clung to not transforming my food. I wanted to keep it as is. In Oaxaca we are so rich in gastronomy, so much so that each town has its own recipes. The ones who work here are those of my family, my grandmother, who are from the Central Valleys,” said Hernández.

Although not everything has been ‘honey on wheels’. This is how Las 15 Salsas came to Phoenix.

A little corner for Oaxacans in Phoenix

Originally from the Valles Centrales region of Oaxaca, Hernández, 47, was born and raised in San Antonino Castillo Velasco, a small town located 30 minutes from the Oaxaca city of Juárez. She moved to Chandler in 2010, when her ex-husband was offered a job.

“To follow my husband I came here. Then they moved it to this side (west of the Valley) and that’s when I got to know the area where most of the Oaxacans are. Here we are the mole of Oaxaca in Arizona, where the majority of the Central Valleys is concentrated” Hernández recalled.

That was when she saw the need to bring the original Oaxacan flavors to the Valley of the Sun. At that time there was one Oaxacan restaurant, but the food and flavors were not traditional to her state.

In 2012, Hernández was cooking for a grocery business owner, who sold food on the premises. She would come in the morning and deliver her stews.

One day the owner told her that he was going to sell her business, and that she was interested in buying it from him. She thought about it that night and the next day she decided to buy it, but only the restaurant. The place, called “La 15 y Salsas” was located at 15 Avenue and Hatcher Road.

After several years in the location, the owner decided to sell it, so she moved the restaurant to 7th Avenue and Hatcher Road, where it is currently located. At the time she thought about changing the name, but she decided to keep it for administrative reasons.

Although its name refers to 15 Sauces, in reality the restaurant has many more, such as red mole, coloradito, stew, green mole, black mole, yellow mole, bean paste, entomatada, green and red sauce, three table sauces and many more.

What sets you apart from other Mexican restaurants in the Valley?

Mexican food is very coarse. All states have their own cuisine. In recent years, southern Mexico has gained a lot of ground, mainly in Chiapas and Oaxaca.

In the Valley, in addition to Las 15 Salsas, there are other restaurants that offer Oaxacan food on their menu such as La Oaxaqueña Mexican Food, Restaurante Atoyac Estilo Oaxaca, Oaxaca Restaurant, El Tlacoyo, among others.

“In the south the food is very delicious and appreciated. With flavors that you won’t find anywhere else. For example, the tlayudas, the different moles, the chiles stuffed with chicken. We add epazote to many foods, we are very fond of cooking and eating with herbs, those exuberant flavors that are strong, but rich,” Hernández pointed out.

Mole, one of the most emblematic dishes of Mexico, is one of its star dishes. It has become a rich and exotic delicacy due to its history and art that goes into its preparation and could not be missing from the Las 15 Salsas menu. They have green mole, yellow mole, coloradito, stew and black mole, the diners’ favorite.

The word mole comes from the Nahuatl word “molli or mulli” which means “sauce.” Its culinary process comes from pre-Hispanic times where there is a wide variety of foods made with different types of sauces that have a mixture of chili peppers as their main ingredient.

Being Oaxaca a place well known for its gastronomy and customs, Americans really like its dishes, said Hernández.

“The Anglos come and tell us that they visited Oaxaca and that they liked it so much that when they arrived ‘I found out about your restaurant and I came.’ Americans come and they already know what they are coming to try and they want to experience this food and they leave with a good taste in their mouths, that is our satisfaction,” said Hernández.

Latinos also come to the place to taste the southern dishes of Mexico.

“It has been a struggle because suddenly someone arrives who wants a chimichanga and we don’t sell that, our menu is completely Oaxacan and we have three burritos. We have tacos, but the best sellers are the jerky and cecina, which have a different flavor,” said Hernández.

Another favorite on the Las 15 Salsas menu is the traditional tlayuda. An Oaxacan gastronomic symbol, typical of the central valleys of Oaxaca.

“Tlayuda” from the Nahuatl “tlao-li” which means shelled corn, are corn tortillas about 30 centimeters or more, covered with black beans, lettuce, cabbage, tomato, jerky (dried pork), chorizo, quesillo and cured meat.

A good refreshing drink—and highly recommended, especially for summer—is tejate.

“It is mainly made up of the cocoa seed. It can be made with corozo (a kind of plum, blueberry or it can even have an appearance similar to acai) or mamey heart, which is where its foam or chantillí (the fat at the top of the glass) comes from.” Hernandez said.

The mamey heart is roasted and ground together with the corn. The drink contains corn, cocoa, mamey heart and a flower called rosita de cocoa.

Since opening his restaurant 11 years ago, Hernández decided to bring the flavors and dishes that reminded him of the region of Valles Centrales, Oaxaca, where he was born and grew up until moving to Arizona in 2010. A difficult challenge, since there were no—or were very limited – the products originating from that region.

“I had products here, but I couldn’t bring them all, so I started buying them from people who traveled to Oaxaca and who brought things, but I realized that I couldn’t depend on those people because when they didn’t come or didn’t bring them, I was left flying,” Hernández recalled.

The solution? Import products directly from Oaxaca.

Easy task? No.

“I was able to find a way to import my stuff. I research, I asked, I investigated until I achieved it and (now) I have my import business, part of the product arrives through California and another through Nogales,” said Hernández.

Another problem she faced at the beginning was the diners. Some of them came to the restaurant asking for chimichangas or trying to change the dish, which Hernández has refused to do to date.

“At first they came and said ‘do you have this dish, but it’s with pinto beans?’ and I told them no, it’s with black beans… or ‘can’t you put chicken in the tlayuda?’ and I responded ” No’. And so, I lost many clients. Despite that, I do not change it, it is something that I have kept since I started and I held on to the fact that the food was going to be completely Oaxacan and traditional and I have been with the restaurant for 11 years now,” added Hernández.

Details: Hours vary. Las 15 Salsas Restaurant Oaxaqueño, 722 W. Hatcher Rd., Phoenix. 602-870-2056. las15salsas.com

Source: Azteca Central